New News Newest, a solo exhibition by contemporary Pakistani master and internationally-acclaimed artist Mian Ijaz ul Hassan, opened at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi recently. Hassan is a painter, teacher, writer and art critic. His work has always dared to stand against the grain and is enveloped with the sociopolitical themes of the time. The artist’s oeuvre is one that depicts the successive ruling regimes of Pakistan providing an in-depth timeline of the country over the years.
Hassan was born in 1940. His early education included his time at Aitcheson College, Lahore, followed by a brief period of study at the St Martin’s School of Art in London. Later, he went on to pursue a master’s in English from Government College, Lahore, and in 1964 transferred to St John’s College, Cambridge. He has held several professional positions, including Director of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation and Chairman of Artists’ Association of Punjab and National Artists’ Association of Pakistan. His practice spans over five decades, earning him international renown. He is the recipient of the prestigious Pride of Performance award in 1992 and the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2016.
Hassan has been an active political worker who, through his practice, defied the rule of the military dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq. During this decade of martial law, which began in the late ’70s, Hassan was arrested and interrogated as a result of his poster artwork that aimed to inspire resistance. During this time, his work was continually being censored or removed and so Hassan resorted to speaking through symbolic paintings of natural elements of trees and plants, those that have adapted themselves to survive the harshest of environments. Arifa Naqvi, from London’s Independent newspaper, goes on to explain that this apprehension came as a ‘culmination of political activism’ that began during Hassan’s student years at Cambridge University where he protested against the Vietnam War.
Ijaz ul Hassan’s commentary on the media investigates the level of fabrication and refinement the truth goes through before it reaches television screens
Hassan is a firm believer that painting is not about acquiring skill. Rather, it is about finding an output and means of liberating the deluge of thoughts and feelings that continue to build up under the surface. His work does not conform to a specific style, colour palette or, as in this recent exhibition, to a particular medium. He allows the subject matter to speak for itself. At the Canvas show, he presents a culmination of paintings and archival prints on Flex and both seem to work together as one.
‘Massacre Of Innocents’ reminded the audience of the brutal APS attack of 2014. In the forefront, a doleful mother laments while a screen of young faces fill the background. There is conscious limitation of colour in both the paintings and prints as this allows the essence of the subject to become obvious. He paints characters with strong stances and defining shapes, thereby exuding emotion and intention more clearly. In all these paintings, the artist appropriates from print and media, highlighting the distress the public often overlooks.
The prints have been completely fragmented, almost like bad TV reception; they become repetitive patterns of line and colour, almost as if denoting cyclical attacks that continue to reoccur over the years. His paintings of nature reappear in this exhibition in ‘Coconut Palm’ and ‘Veil Through A Window.’
In most cases, the truth may never be completely objective; instead versions of the truth are floated around waiting for someone to believe it. As people, we are coaxed towards those who give us the most believable one, specifically from the news absorbed today. Hassan’s commentary on the media invites the viewer to question this predisposition and investigates the level of fabrication and refinement the truth goes through before it reaches the television screen.
‘New News Newest’ is being displayed at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from April 23 to May 2, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 28th, 2019